The London Ride 2011
On Saturday 22nd October, Earl's Court played host to the 8th edition of the London Ride. This is the UK episode of the Ride series of freestyle ski events, which also features the Verbier Ride and Saas Fee Ride. It's an afternoon in which the danger and excitement of high-risk snow-sports comes storming into the sophisticated streets of West London. Ski-fans of all origins, from City bankers to hardcore powder hounds, come to gape at a blur of metal and flesh, laid down by teenagers who you wouldn't look twice at in the fields of Reading Festival. With some of the UK's top athletes (including X-Games medallist Woodsy) over in Europe for the World Cup, this was a great chance for some of Britain's up-and-coming riders to make their mark on the freestyle scene. The jump is made of Snowflex, which feels very different to snow - it's hard to get a genuine edge, and its slower, with more friction. A water/silicon mix is applied to the skis and the slope itself to help the skis run better. This year the feature for the Big Air was a hip-landing, so the riders had to land at 90 degrees to their take-off angle, adding an extra level of complexity to their aeronautical display. The scores were an average out of 100, scored by 3 judges, including British freestyle legend Dave Young (aka The Godfather). He took the time to talk about the event.
"When I started in '98/'99, there wasn't much for British kids to do. But now you have the London Ride. It's a pretty significant event for the British scene, particularly when it comes down to getting the public knowledgeable about freestyle skiing - most ski tourists are stil completely unaware of it. It also gives the young riders something to aim for - perhaps the first step on the way to the X-Games! Getting in that competition experience and exposure is hugely important."
Judging isn't easy either. Riders are scored on Amplitude (height), Style, Technical Difficulty and Landing. In big comps, such as the X-Games, there will be a judge for each individual criterion, as the tricks are often so fast, that its hard to properly assess all the criteria. Dave thinks this is even a challenge at the Ride, as the level has got so high in the last few years, "The guys are training all year at Snow-Domes and Dry Slopes, coming on the Grom Camps with Pat Sharples, or even out to Saas Fee for Warren's summer camps."
British freestyle stalwart Andy Bennett agrees, "There's been a noticeable improvement in the level of skiing, and the London Ride is a genuinely respected competition. It provides a stage for young GB riders - it's something to compete at, aim towards and aspire to." He told me more about the challenge of this particular feature, "It's a 50 degree run-in, with a blind take-off: you can't see where you're going to land for a few seconds before you hit the jump. And because it's a hip, you have to land over to the left, at an angle - so it's a tricky line. Plus the guys have to hike up 82 steps just to get to the start - that's tiring. Finally, the short landing means they have to stop before going over the barrier into the crowd. Basically, harder than it looks."
In the end, Murray Buchan won with a 540 w/ Tail Grab and a Corked 720. He only just edged James Machon into second place, who pulled out a stonking Corked 720 with Truck Driver nose grab, and Andy Matthew into 3rd, who had a lovely Flat Spin 360 with an Air Japan and Nose Grab. The deciding factor, for Dave anyway, was the execution and style - whilst Murray's may not have been the most complicated trick, the execution and style were unmatched - basically he looked clean through the air and landed well.
As Dave explains, "Grabs and spins increase the technical difficulty, but a nice, clean 540 with a grab will always beat a poorly performed Switch 1080 in which you put a hand down on landing." So a good bit of advice for all you aspiring Riders there: work hard on perfecting your tricks before trying to overdo it on more complicated ones.
The London Ride was a great event, won by an Olympic hopeful. I'll be bringing you an interview with Murray Buchan in the next few days, but I'll leave you with his opinion of the day, "It's a really fun event, which properly kicks off the season. It gives you a chance to stake your claim and stamp your authority early. A 2-run qualifier, a 2-run final, then a 2-run super-final: great to get you in the competition mode, and winning sets me up great for the rest of the season."